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Health coaches building valuable relationships with patients

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mary Ann Zehner, a health coach at East Berlin Family Medicine, left, often takes a 10-minute walk with her patients and discusses various health topics.  

Work with patients after they leave the hospital

Perhaps you have seen the latest WellSpan television advertising campaign.

The commercials use a wedding to illustrate goals of various individuals and how, through a relationship with WellSpan, each was able to achieve the good health necessary to realize them.

WellSpan’s care coordination teams and patient-centered medical homes are excellent examples of how WellSpan is building relationships with patients.

Care coordination teams consist of a case manager, social worker and health coach. Team members share information about a patient when they are transitioned out of the hospital. The health coaches receive information about the patient’s treatment, medications, discharge instructions and needs once they go home.

The health coach works directly with the patient after they leave the hospital. One of the first things the health coach does is call the patient to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician within seven days of leaving the hospital.

All 26 WellSpan Medical Group primary care practices are patient-centered medical homes and have health coaches.

In patient-centered medical homes, the physician leads a team of health care professionals who assist with providing care to the patient. The model of care allows health care professionals to establish an ongoing, collaborative relationship with patients.

Patient-centered medical homes help to coordinate care for patients, and are especially helpful to patients with chronic conditions.

“Health coaches guide people to make changes to improve their health,” said Barbara Sipe, supervisor of case management. “They provide resources and motivation for setting and achieving goals. And, they work with patients to overcome any obstacles or barriers.”

Sipe said health coaches have the time to develop one-on-one relationships with patients. “They will do whatever they can to help a patient. They are building wonderfully strong and important relationships,” she stressed.

Health coaches are helping patients improve their health and consequently decreasing visits to the emergency department and hospital re-admissions.

Mary Ann Zehner, a health coach at WellSpan East Berlin Family Medicine, said, “You can’t treat everyone the same way. You have to get to know them, what’s important to them, their lifestyle, their support system and any obstacles they may have.”

Zehner said the relationship between patient and health coach tends to be less intimidating than between patient and physician.

To encourage her patients to exercise and to show them how easy it is to incorporate into their daily routine, Zehner will often take a 10-minute walk with her patients and discuss various topics.

Cindy Schmincke, a health coach at WellSpan Hayshire Family Medicine, said, “Patients get comfortable with you and they trust you. They realize you are there to help them and you care about them.”

Schmincke, like all health coaches, calls her patients weekly to check on them. She asks, “How are you doing? Is there anything you need help with? Do you have any questions?”

Patients appreciate the regular contact and knowing they can call the health coach whenever they have a question or concern, according to Schmincke.

Missy Shupe, a health coach for WellSpan Fairfield Family Medicine and Thurmont Family Medicine, said, “It’s important to learn what a patient’s story is, and that involves asking questions and listening.  Once we know that, we can help the patient better manage their health.”

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